His right leg was splayed at an angle out from his body. His left leg was the same way to the knee, but there it bent back toward his right. The sole of his left shoe pressed against the inside of the right leg of his trousers just above the knee.
His back was against the wall, his shoulders round and sagging. His arms, along with the lapels of his jacket, framed his bulging yellow shirt. His hands lay palms-up on his lap. His hat lay on the floor at his side, and his head was slumped to his chest.
The light from the lone chandelier glistened on his slick bald head. Short, wavy red hair formed a horseshoe from above one ear and around his head to the other.
He appeared to be asleep.
At this time of night, there was no one around to make a judgement. Any guests were long since asleep. If the desk clerk was at his station, he was being very discreet about it.
Each time Jones inhaled, it seemed an effort. The air came as if it were a rope, being pulled, inch by inch, past his lips and into his lungs. His chin quavered slightly with every breath, and he made a sound like a cat scratching on a post.
Each time he exhaled it was a quiet moan wrapped in a sigh, and his thick chest and abdomen trembled slightly.
He slowly raised his head, winced with the pain, and looked across the lobby at the double entrance doors.
There was no doorman either. That was better.
The doorman’s station, a dark mahogany pedestal to the left of the door, began to waver. Time was short.
Jones allowed his head to drop again, but this time under his control.
A few inches below his face, on top of his abdomen, fabric strained away in both directions from a shirt button. The button was brown.
Shouldn’t the buttons be yellow, like the shirt?
To the left and closer, another, larger brown spot. Small, frothy bubbles around the edge.
Lung shot. Probably a lung shot.
If he still smoked, he could cover it with the cellophane from the pack. That’s what they taught him in the army.
It was nonsense, of course. How would you patch the hole in the back?
After that lecture, back in the barracks, he joked with his buddies, “It’s silly. It just gives you somethin’ to think about while you’re dyin’.”
They all laughed.
In the lobby, leaning against the wall, he shook his head slightly.
Come on back to now.
He raised his head again, opened one eye.
He could make it to the door.
He drew another breath, then another, filling himself with air.
He grunted slightly, hunched and all at once leaned his shoulders forward, with force. He did it again, then again.
Each time his shoulders bumped the wall, he hunched them again, propelled himself forward.
Each time he leaned over a little farther, gaining momentum.
Finally he rocked across the fulcrum of his knee. The palms of his hands, fingers splayed, splatted against the marble floor.
Behind him on the wall was a large, bright red splotch. Alongside it in three steps, three more bright red marks.
He swung his right leg around, brought his right knee up, began crawling toward the door.
A third of the way across the lobby, he thought of his gun.
His holster was there. But it felt light.
Probably they took it.
Probably they tugged it from his holster when they sat him down.
The guy who tugged it out would glance at it, slip it into his jacket pocket to toss it into the river later on.
But they wouldn’t drop that one in the river. That one wasn’t a throw-away.
The guy who did the deed would catch a glimpse. He’d say quietly, “Hey, whaddya got there?”
Jones’ mind swayed for a moment. He reached for the wavering floor with his left hand, kept moving forward.
It was like the captain said the first time he brought the pistol to the range. “Hey, whaddya got there, Dee?”
And Jones grinned. He dropped the magazine into his left palm, racked the slide and locked it back, and passed it to the captain over a grin. “Kimber .45.” He laughed. “‘Cause you know, they don’t make a .46.”
The captain took it, held it reverently in his right palm. He rolled it over, let the slide go home. He turned, aimed it downrange, tested the heft, the balance.
Then he racked the slide, locked it back, and handed it back to Jones. “Hey, ain’t that something? I always heard these were the thing, eh?”
Today, another guy would say, “Whaddya got there?”
And the guy who took it from his holster would stop just short of his pocket
He’d stop and he’d roll the pistol over in his hand. He’d lean his ugly, pinched, pockmarked face close to read the stamp on the slide. Then he’d look up and frown. “Kimber?” he’d say. “Is that even a thing?”
Jones was almost halfway across the floor when his right elbow quavered.
He looked up.
The single column in the room. It rose from the floor to the ceiling of the lobby.
Two stories, right? Yeah, two stories.
The column was to his right front. Only a few feet away.
So he was only a few feet short of halfway across.
He stopped for a moment, supporting himself on his left hand and his knees. He lifted his right arm, flexed his elbow once.
He thought again of the hood, rolling his Kimber in his hand. Thought of him saying, “Is that even a thing?”
Yeah, genius. It’s a thing.
His left wrist went weak and something slapped him on the left side of his face.
Wakin’ me up. My friend, wakin’ me up.
He drew a heavy breath, focused all his attention on his right arm.
The right arm’s gimpy. The right elbow.
With the slap still pressing against the left side of his face, he focused on that right arm. He dragged his right hand forward, the back of his fingers sweeping across the floor.
But at the end of the reach, they flipped up from beneath his hand.
Just like they’re supposed to.
His palm made contact.
He focused. Focused on everything. Focused on doing what he had to do.
He shook his head, but he wasn’t sure it actually moved side to side. The slap was still stuck to the left side.
Strange. Do slaps do that?
Who slapped me anyway?
But while his head was up, he glanced at the door.
Still a ways to go. Still a ways.
Back to business.
He focused. He focused on a knee, then the other hand. Then the other knee.
My right knee, right?
Then the other knee, and then his left.
He’d make it. He’d make it to the doors.
The car is there. Right there.
Parked outside. Along the curb.
The slap still stuck to his face, he glanced up to look at the door.
Didn’t I? Didn’t I look at the door?
Yeah I did.
He glanced at the door and it slid sideways.
Oops. That ain’t right.
It swung back into place.
He thought of his fingertips. He was pulling himself along on his fingertips, right?
Focus. Knee, fingertips. Other knee, fingertips.
Fingertips. Tips of the fingers.
Good design. The little mounds there. On the fingertips. They’re supposed to be for suction, right? Like holdovers from when we were amphibians? Somethin’ like that?
He’d heard that somewhere.
Then another thought hit him.
It felt like another slap. Almost. Only the first slap was still there. It was cool on his cheek.
Something about that was funny.
But it was a thought.
A thought slapped me. Where’s that thought? It was a thought, right? A thought.
He let his eyes close and looked at the door. He was over halfway. The column was behind him to his right, and he didn’t even remember moving past it. And he didn’t have to look to know it was there.
He’d make it to the doors. And his car was right outside. Right alongside the curb.
There’s the thought. It came again. The other thought like the one about the suction cups. The other thought. The one about cellophane.
They got somethin’ in common.
What is it? What they got in common?
What was the other thought?
There was the cellophane thought, whatever that was, and then—
Somethin’— somethin’ to do with suction cups, or somethin’.
Oh. Cellophane to stop a sucking chest wound.
He tried to grin, turned up the right corner of his mouth.
And then suction cups, so that’s like a suckin’ chest wound. Or somethin’. They both suck. That’s what they got in common. They both suck. One sucks air and one— One sucks stuff you’re grippin’. That’s what— what they—
No. Nah, that ain’t it.
Just silly thoughts. They got nothin’ to do with anything.
“Just,” he said, barely above a whisper. “Just somethin’.”
The captain looked at his Kimber. “Whaddya got there, Dee? Well now ain’t that somethin’!”
“Just somethin’,” Jones said again.
Blood frothed on his lips.
The thought was slipping away. Both thoughts. Slipping away together.
Suction. Suction cups. Suckin’ chest wound. Suction cups.
“Ahh, that’s— that’s what they got— common.”
The corner of his mouth turned up again.
Suction cups an’ fingertips.
He looked up at the door again, his eyes still closed.
Hey, it didn’t waver this time.
And he was close. He was almost there.
Suction cups. Apply the suction cups on your fingertips. Get there, man!
His car was right there at the curb.
Sucked up against the curb.
He looked up at the door again. Almost there.
Suction cups on your fingers. Silly. Suckin’ chest wound. And cellophane. Somethin’ about—
Oh. Cellophane— to seal a suckin’ chest wound. Silly. How you gonna seal the back?
But that’s it. That’s what it is.
Suction cups on your fingertips. Cellophane on a suckin’ chest wound.
His army buddies faded in, grinning. They wavered.
“Yeah,” he said. He laughed, trying to get their attention. “See? Hey, see? Suction cups on your fingertips. Here. Right here.”
He stood and held up both hands, showing them the part he was talking about. “See? An’ then sealin’ a suckin’ chest wound with cellophane. See?”
He slapped his chest hard. “See? Right there. That’s where it’d go on me. Only it don’t work, see. That’s the joke. Just— just somethin’ to keep you entertained— while you’re dyin’.”
What a cool thought. And it slapped him on the left side of his face.
No, a cold thought. What a cold thought.
He wanted to look at the door again.
Open your eyes this time. Look with your eyes this time.
But his left eye didn’t want to open.
He opened his right eye.
He opened it again. Opened it wide.
The column was just ahead of him a few feet.
Oh. Oh yeah.
* * * * * * *